Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Earth, Wind, and Fire"

Acts 2: 1-21; 41-47

Genesis 11: 1-9

      I’d like to ask for a show of hands.  How many of you remember a musical group called “Earth,

Wind and Fire?”  For the younger of us who may not recognize that name, Earth, Wind and Fire

was a band which made the scene in the 1970’s.  Their music was a distinctive blend of rock, soul,

and rhythm and blues; great dance music of the pre-disco era.  Like so many other groups of that

decade, they soared to the heights of popularity, topping the charts with hits like “After the Love

Is Gone,” “Shining Star,” and “Sing a Song.”  Their songs were all over the radio, and you couldn’t

walk into a bar, restaurant, high school senior prom or wedding reception without hearing the

music of Earth, Wind and Fire blaring through the speakers.  But before long, their popularity

began to fade, and in a fairly short time, they all but disappeared from the charts; giving way to

the likes of The Village People, The Commodores, and The Average White Band.  While we can still

catch them on the classic rock stations, or in nightclubs catering to a more mature crowd, if we

were to ask our children or grandchildren, they’d probably look at us like we came from Mars,

and ask: “Earth, Wind and who?”

      Many thought, and many hoped, that with His execution by the Roman authorities, Jesus of

Nazareth’s popularity would quickly fade, and that His name would disappear from the charts;

that few would remember His song; that future generations at the mention of His name might

ask: “Jesus who?”

      Then, of course, three days after His crucifixion, a curious thing happened.  Some of His

followers – male and female – went to the tomb early on the first day of the week and found it

empty.  Some of them remembered Jesus saying something to the effect that on the third day, He

would rise.  Few of them really believed it.  In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, we’re told that

Jesus did indeed rise, and moreover, appeared to many of His disciples, offering proof that He

was not a figment of their imaginations, but truly alive; bodily resurrected; still bearing the scars

of mortal life, but clothed in an immortal and glorious body.  And just before His departure into

full immortality, glory and eternity [which we call the “ascension”], Jesus instructed His disciples

to remain in Jerusalem until they would have conferred upon them a power to witness; the

arrival of One whom Jesus named “the Holy Spirit.”

      The opening words of Acts chapter 2 tell us that “When the day of Pentecost had come, they

[the disciples, minus Judas, plus Matthias] were all together in one place.”  What is initially described here

is not Pentecost as we understand it; this so-called celebration of the birthday of the church. 

Pentecost was a Jewish agricultural festival observed fifty days after Passover.  It has

been traditionally held that the disciples were hiding out in the upper room; fearful for their lives,

yet obedient to Jesus’ instructions to remain in the city.

      The city was swelled with people; Jewish pilgrims to the Pentecost festival; tradesmen from

near and faraway lands; visitors from throughout Asia; Romans, Greeks, Arabians; buzzing along

with them the sound of many different languages and dialects.  Suddenly, Luke tells us, the Holy

Spirit - whom Jesus had first promised to the disciples on the night of their last supper together -

showed up; accompanied by a dramatic sound “like the rush of a violent wind.”  There was also a

visual element to this manifestation: what appeared to be flames resting above the head of each


       This power -- which many thought would be heard from no more, which would fade into

memory like yesterday’s top twenty hit – made a startling comeback!  We’re told that one way

power from on high was manifest was in the gift of tongues.  The disciples literally took to the


streets, witnessing to and testifying about this Jesus of Nazareth, who had been written off fifty

days earlier as dead and buried.  Miraculously, despite the barrier of language, what they said

was understood by everyone in the city who heard them.  And the marvel of this is that many

who had never even heard of Jesus of Nazareth – let along His story and His song – were now

learning things about Him which would turn their lives upside down and inside out.  Some

commentators have suggested that this particular Day of Pentecost symbolized a reversal of what

had happened at the Tower of Babel thousands of years earlier when, as Tom read, God had

dealt with human pride and arrogance by scattering the language of the people.  In a broader

theological sense, what had been scattered following the sin of the first Adam [literally, the first

human] was being restored following the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, who Paul has referred

to as the “last Adam.” 

      As we celebrate it today, Pentecost is for the Christian community a festival of the Holy Spirit;

a time when that which had been dispersed was reassembled by the released energy of Almighty

God; a moment in time which provided a foretaste of a Kingdom church in which there would be

common understanding among all people; a manifestation of Christ’s dunamis (dunamis); the

Greek word for power and might.  Electrified by this dunamis, Simon Peter preached a mind-

blowing sermon which boldly proclaimed Jesus crucified and resurrected; calling all within ear-

shot to abandon their pride and arrogance, and to come together in unity and with like mind. 

Was Peter effective?  Luke tells us, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart.” 

Convicted.  Overcome.  Undone.  Reborn.  The outcome of this mighty movement of the Holy

mighty movement of the Holy Spirit is recorded beginning at the 41st verse of chapter 2.  Let me

read that for you now.

          (Read Acts 2:41-47)

      Well, that was then, and this is now; Pentecost Sunday 2019.  We seem so far removed from

that relatively small community gathered together in Jerusalem, holding all things in common;

eating and praying together constantly; witnessing the miraculous; adding to their numbers daily.

We might ask how these words and deeds impact us today in the 21st century mainline church.

      For one thing, that spiritual power – that dunamis -- of Jesus Christ is alive and well in our

midst; still able to bring people of difference and diversity together in a common understanding

of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit continues to impart through preachers and teachers that good

news which cuts to the heart, while cutting across the barriers of age, gender, sexual identity,

race, ethnicity, and socio-economic class.  The movement of the Holy Spirit seems much too

feared in the mainline, where the Spirit should be welcomed as the wind beneath the wings of a

church desperately in need of uplift, unity and vision. 

      Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the binding force – the adhesive agent – which holds us together as

a sacred body of Christ, even and especially when the going in the church gets rough.  I am convinced

that in this particular church, it was the dunamis of the Spirit which held us together in times when

everything seemed to be coming apart.  That same Spirit is now guiding us in new

directions; breathing fresh life into our ministries.  Sometimes, we might wish that the Spirit

would breathe faster and harder.  But at God’s pace, God’s Spirit is moving, and will move.

      Finally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus of Nazareth is still topping the charts. There are

some who claim that the popularity of Christ is fading.  I would argue that it is not the popularity

of Christ which is fading, but the popularity of the church which – I’m saddened to say -- has

 managed to say and do some of the most UN-Christlike things imaginable.  For the most part, I

find that people are just alright with Jesus, as the Doobie Brothers sang a few years before Earth,

Wind and Fire hit the charts.  They are NOT okay with things that His body – the church – has perpetrated

and supported in His name.  In this day and age, when people are on as wide a spiritual search as we’ve

seen in recent history, most know Jesus’ name.  It is our task as Jesus’ witnesses to see that His story and

His song get a lot of air time.  That may or may not necessarily be the story and the song of the church,

which many believe has abandoned, and even twisted, the core teachings of Christ; teachings about and 

demonstrations of compassion, mercy, sacrifice, forgiveness, inclusiveness, acceptance, unity, unconditional love. 

In a sense, it’s our task to make Jesus great by telling His story and playing His song; by telling the truth about Him. 

It is, and will be, His Holy Spirit being manifest in our lives, speaking in the words of our testimony; giving us

language for a new generation; moving in the midst of this worshiping congregation that all would hear and

come to know the truth:  that nothing can match the power which showed up on that first Christian Pentecost

 in the wind and the fire, and which shook, and continues to shake, the earth to its very pillars.


Almighty God, Spirit and Truth, send forth Your transforming power into our lives that our lives

would be changed, as would the lives of those who hear our testimony.  Equip us with truth,

and give us the courage to proclaim it.  Grant us the mind of Christ, that all we would say and

do would reflect the nature of His grace and love.  In His matchless name we pray.  Amen.